SOURCE: JOYDEEP GHOSH / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Looks like Indian Navy is repeating 1990s mistake. After the fist 2 Shishumar class submarines were built and delivered from Germany and 2 were built at Mazagaon Docks in India with last one rolling out in 1990. Once that was done the human resources, supply chain, setup all sat idle. Even after MDL pleaded with Indian Navy and government to issue order for atleast 1 more that expertise gained is not lost, the Indian Navy and government refused and by early 2000s everything was lost. Indian Navy and government instead started looking for new submarine in 2003 and we got Scorpène, the last of which is set to roll out next year.
Now we are sitting on piles of Type 209 ToT related document. If Indian Navy and government had ordered newer batches of 3 Type 209 subs every 5 years applying better technologies progressively, we wouldn’t have ever faced shortage as we see today and we wouldn’t have needed the Scorpène either with total 16 Type 209. Work on AIP going on side by side would have allowed one of the submarines to be used as test bed and after validation we would have started equipping our submarines with AIP by now. We can still test our homegrown AIP on the Type 209 starting 2023 and completing it by 2025.
As situation stands logic dictates Indian Navy and government must skip P75I and go for 9 submarines under P76 and ordering 3 more Scorpène submarine under P75. That way the project cost will be amortised, human resources/expertise will not be lost and supply chain will be busy till 2032. In the meantime, the total 9 Scorpène submarine under P75 can be retrofitted with AIP during mid-life upgrade starting 2025 making them truly Super Scorpène equipped with torpedo tube launched SLCM. That way Indian Navy will have a homegrown AIP ready for P76 ready as well by the time submarine is chosen in 2032.
Another mistake looks like Indian Navy is repeating from 1990s is by not ordering a sister ship of INS Vikrant immediately after it was commissioned into the Indian Navy. Ideally the moment INS Vikrant was decommissioned, order for a 40000-ton carrier should have been given to CSL. It’s a different matter that Russia offered INS Vikramaditya way back in 1995, if the offer was accepted then itself and the ship ordered we would have bought it at much less lost than what we gave for it in 2004 after letting it rot for 8 more years.
Anyways the sister ship can be titled INS Viraat and a STOBAR carrier. Many may say a STOBAR doesn’t allow jets to take off with full weapon load or fuel. We can overcome that shortcoming by going for 4 aircraft carriers conventionally powered (for now), out of which 2 need to be of INS Vikrant class and other 2 of INS Vikramaditya class. It will help amortize the project investment made in training personnel, setting up machines and more.
1st carrier takes care of western seaboard, 2nd carrier takes care of eastern seaboard, 3rd carrier in repairs and 4th carrier takes care of remaining part of Northern Indian Ocean left untouched by the 2 carriers and the entire Southern Indian Ocean. Southern Indian Ocean is a massive fish, oil, gas, and mineral rich area. Do note China has already forayed into this area and is practically robbing the fish in the area with huge fishing trawlers.
Building a 3rd aircraft carrier or IAC2 of just 65000-ton doesn’t make sense if its’ not fully capable. Meaning it must have a single fuel lifetime 250MW nuclear reactor. It should be able to carry and launch 3 E2D Hawkeye type aircraft, as well as launch atleast 40 fully armed and fueled fixed wing fighters, with 12 to 15 helos. All this can’t be accommodated in 65000-ton carrier, it must be atleast 75000-ton carrier same as what France is building to replace the Charles de Gaulle carrier.
Problem is India still can’t build a single fuel lifetime nuclear reactor. The 190MW nuclear reactors being designed for future 6 SSNs & 3 S5-class SSBNs are still in concept and no sign yet that these will be single fuel lifetime nuclear reactor or whether atleast one will be ready by 2032. Even if built, that reactor will have to be re-modelled for carrier. All this will be atleast 15 years’ time give or take and is highly cost prohibitive. In the meantime, CSL can easily build another 40000-ton INS Vikrant class carrier and 2nd 45000-ton INS Vikramaditya class carrier.
To make up for the shortfall in not being to takeoff with full weapon and fuel load, the best option can be that fighters’ jets are launched with full weapons load and 50% fuel load. Just after takeoff midair they can be refueled by buddy-buddy refueling or with an unmanned refueler UAV. This way even conventionally powered aircraft carriers can operate and launch fully armed and fueled fixed wing fighters. We can have a 250 MW nuclear powered CATOBAR carrier once INS Vikramaditya is decommissioned in 2040. Indian Navy and Government must give these a serious thinking.
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